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High Tail Acres - A Family Affair



by Bob Funkhouser

Posted May 8, 2002

If you show horses in New England, you know of a family that has been a fixture on that circuit for decades, winning with Hackneys, Saddlebreds, and Morgans. Besides their success in the show ring, they are not hard to spot. Mom, dad, the three girls: all of them are tall, all of them flash a big smile and have a twinkle in their eye, and all of them are passionate about the horse industry and the people within it.

Skip and Dawn DelTorchio, along with their daughters, Deidre Henry, Deana Tate, and Darla DelTorchio are the heart and soul of High Tail Acres Equestrian Center, a training and lesson facility in Newbury, Mass. Dawn and her parents, Harold and Norma Reader, began showing in New England some 40 years ago and their gusto has never wavered.

It all began when Dawn’s older sister received formal hunt seat riding lessons for her tenth birthday from their grandmother. Dawn’s father, wasn’t too keen on his daughter jumping so he began looking for a Saddlebred.

It was 1960 when the Reader family purchased their first Saddlebred, a graceful gelding named Adaiose. The three-year-old was bought from John and Kay McFaun’s Northgate Farm in Ipswich, Mass. Soon after, Dawn began saddle seat lessons at Northgate and her sister switched to saddle seat shortly thereafter.

During that same time Dawn fell in love with a pony at Northgate named Rare Edition. That love affair with the Hackney breed still holds true today.

“He was the most awesome pony I had ever seen, full of spirit and presence,” recalled Dawn. “He was shown in hand and as well as in harness. My dad fell in love with him.”

The family had definitely caught the bug! Dawn’s grandmother and mother drove her and her from Glouster to Ipswich three or four times a week for five years in order for them to take lessons. Finally, Mrs. McFaun’s health was failing and John had cut back training considerably at Northgate so the decision was made to build a barn at home in Glouster. Rare Edition was also purchased so in 1965 the grand Hackney pony and Adaiose came home. It didn’t take long to outgrow the barn and one acre of land in Glouster so in July of 1973 Harold and Norma Reader purchased a farm in Newbury and named it High Tail Acres. Acres was for the first letter of the first five horses and ponies that they owned. The Readers would later open a Blue Seal Feed dealership there on the farm and today at 79, Norma still runs the business.

“During the late ‘70s and early ‘80s our focus had turned mainly to Hackney ponies,” said Dawn. “Skip and I trained and showed Rare Edition, Yankee Doodle Sportsman, High & Mighty Classic Edition, Boreen’s Scarlet, and my favorite, Big Time’s Supreme Time.

“Needless to say, our daughters’ preschool years were spent in the barn and as I began their riding and driving instruction it became apparent that each of them was gifted with natural ability. How lucky could we be? Their involvement with the horses fostered healthy decision making skills as well as excellent work ethics and responsibility for their actions.”

From the private family facility Dawn and Skip, and eventually the three girls, cared for, trained and showed many New England Horsemen’s Council High Point Champions. Besides the above mentioned champions, they also had stars like Kilkenny Show Miser, and Domino. The family has been extremely versatile, winning with three different breeds.

The girls were practically born on horses and all began riding and then showing by the ages of three and four. There was no doubt where these three young ladies were headed in their professional lives, but first there was a matter of an education. Part of the movement that has made the show horse industry better today, they got an education before embarking on a professional career of not just training horses, but teaching lessons and dealing with people.

The oldest of the trio, Deidre graduated in 1993 from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and then set out on her career. She had already worked at Dr. and Mrs. Charles Covino’s Iron Horse Farm, doing an internship with Bill and Maria Knight. Following graduation she went to work for Lawrence Carss, working Hackneys and Saddlebreds with Carss for two and a half years. From there she went to work for Darlene DeBlois at Dar-Col Stables, assisting DeBlois with training and lessons.

During the summer of 1996, Deidre’s sister Deana joined the staff at Dar-Col Stables, also assisting in instruction and training. A ‘96 graduate of Northern Essex Community College, Deana had also served as instructor at Chris and Larry Cassenti’s Chrislar Farm from ‘94-’96.

A big decision was made while sitting around the table for a family dinner sometime in 1996. It was decided that the girls would come back home and High Tail Acres would become a public training and teaching facility. So in January of 1997 High Tail Acres Equestrian Center opened its doors for outside horses and riders.

“We had been working for other people and just decided it was time we did it for ourselves,” said Deidre. “It’s hard work, but a lot of fun. I like the training aspect because the horses don’t talk back as much.”

“We just didn’t want to work for other people anymore,” added Deana. “We all learned a lot, it was time to do this together and for ourselves. I love the teaching. I did it in high school and that’s all I’ve wanted to do. Seeing horse and rider come together is the greatest feeling.”

When the public training barn was still just a dream, the DelTorchio family knew what their mission statement would be. “Our goal is to share our knowledge and experience with you in a family atmosphere.”

That’s exactly what they have built. A facility that revolves around family and learning all the values that come with the equine experience, not just the blue ribbons. They believe in a hands on experience where the young riders and adults help get their horses ready and take part in the care of them. They get to know their horse or pony inside the stall as well as out. The High Tail riders are also great friends in and out of the ring.

Steadily the show string has grown and the quality improved. From giving 60 to 70 lessons a week, the riders have also grown and advanced. Leadline was big when Deidre, Deana, and Darla were growing up and today those three young women are putting champions into the ring from leadline to junior equitation. The performance string has won in everything from open and amateur fine harness to park, show pleasure and country pleasure. And of course, there’s always a nice pony or two.

“I think the biggest challenge when we first started was to get the established trainers to respect you,” said Deidre. “The only way to get that respect was to present good horses and riders and get noticed. During the next 10 years I want people to say we’re one of the barns that have horses and riders they would like to have.”

Deidre is also expanding in the young horse department. She currently has a two-year-old by Great Day’s Came The Son and another by Harlem Globetrotter. These youngsters learn their lessons just like the High Tail Acres riders, with patience and care.

The growth of High Tail Acres has been a source of great pride to Skip and Dawn. Not only has the show ring successes of their clients been a delight, but seeing the girls come full circle now as young adults has given them the biggest thrill.

“Because of the horses we have remained a very close knit family,” explained Dawn. “It think that our daughters, Deidre, now trainer; Deana, now manager and instructor our lesson program; and Darla, who will be entering her senior year at William Woods University in the fall; felt a sense of purpose growing up. They each excelled in school academically as well as in sports and in the concert, marching, and jazz bands. I honestly feel that their individual successes were directly related to their involvement with the horses.

“They each made a conscious decision to pursue and expand their knowledge in regard to horses. To have them at home in the family business is overwhelming, satisfying, and gratifying. We have been able to provide a true family atmosphere at High Tail Acres. We have been blessed with wonderful clients who appreciate our dedication to family. Not all of our clients are involved with showing, but they have one thing in common, they all want what is best for their children and they feel their child’s involvement in horses is a healthy atmosphere for them to grow up in.”

As High Tail Acres moves into the new millennium there are already plans to add on and continue going forward. The family values have proven to be a big selling point.

“We just have a lot of fun,” added Deana. “We have each other to lean on and we can all do anything that needs to be done.”

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